Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - January 21, 2011

Changing how they live

Faced with a premature death, many choose to bring balance to their lives

Confronting death can be compared to a person with vertigo standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon: sheer terror.

But, according to Dr. David Spiegel, a Stanford University psychiatry professor who has been studying women with advanced breast cancer, facing death can be a period of growth.

Research on the effects of stress and support on breast-cancer patients has been ongoing since the 1970s under Dr. Irv Yalom, who conducted support groups for women with breast cancer that had spread, or metasticized. His concern was whether the "support" groups would actually demoralize the women, Spiegel said. Instead, he found they "remoralized" them.

"They faced decisions about how to live their lives," he said.

Spiegel has interviewed women who have changed their lives. He said a woman who had been a frustrated poet all her life published several books of poetry by the time she died.

Another quit her job to spend time with her 5-year-old child.

A journalist had planned in her will to help young journalists. After her diagnosis, she decided to implement her idea before she died, he said.

"'Why start after I'm gone?'" she told him. Instead, she got involved in setting up the program and meeting women to help launch their careers.

A Silicon Valley engineer said she'd always wanted to be an artist. "I'm not going to die without doing what I want to do," she told him before she quit her job, went to art school and taught art.

But not everyone makes a radical shift.

"Some who feel life is pretty balanced will continue doing what they're doing," Spiegel said.

"A big part is having the courage to face that: 'My life is not the same, but maybe I can make it better,'" he said.

Dr. Spiegel thinks often about his own life-balance, weighing his commitment to career and work at Stanford with family.

"I've lost both parents in the last few years. I took time to deal with those losses, spent time with my sister. Earlier I might have worried about all that work to do. ...

"I'm behind on a number of projects. I'll get them done, but I'm not losing sleep over it."

— Carol Blitzer

Comments

There are no comments yet for this post

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields